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May 10, 2007

BehindTheMedspeak: World's best sunburn treatment — and you don't even need a doctor


Two regular aspirin, taken every four hours around the clock until the pain stops.

That's it.

This treatment is simple, cheap, and more effective than the most expensive creams, ointments, and lotions you can buy and apply.

Don't wet or wash your affected skin: dryness afterward will only increase the pain.

I learned of this remedy in a two-paragraph letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from a family physician in Miami, back when I was in medical school.

I tried it: it worked!

Keep a little container of aspirin in your car's glove compartment, so you always have it handy at the pool or beach.

The sooner you begin treatment, the better the results.

But, even if you can't get your hands on any aspirin until bedtime, take two then, and again first thing in the morning when you wake up: you'll still get relief.

Mechanism of action? Aspirin is a powerful prostaglandin inhibitor; sunburn causes prostaglandin release, leading to inflammation in the skin and subdermal tissues.

Aspirin blocks the inflammatory response.

A second site of action is the brain, where the pain of sunburn is ultimately perceived; aspirin targets these receptors as well, lessening the discomfort and agony.

I find it a continuing source of amazement that other doctors have never even heard of this remedy, instead dispensing gibberish advice like "apply cool compresses" and prescribing steroids and all manner of ridiculous, expensive, less-than-efficacious meds with all manner of potentially deleterious side effects.

Why pay more?

May 10, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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In the early 1970's, on a family vacation to Florida, my dad (a physician) had us all take 4 aspirin before we went out in the sun as a sunburn preventative. This was before sunblock existed.
Of course, using sunblock is preferable to dealing with sunburn afterwards.

Posted by: ageekymom | May 14, 2007 9:23:23 AM

Why reduce inflamation ? Isn't inflamation the correct response ?

Posted by: Lem | May 11, 2007 6:18:19 PM

I'm an advocate of Aspirin! I love it and it's all I prefer to use. Headaches be gone, Heart attacks be gone..now sunburns be gone..well atleast the pain.

I likey!

Posted by: CWonder | May 11, 2007 3:27:28 PM

I never tried the aspirin thing. Good to know. But then, I've only ever had two serious sunburns in my life, the last one when I was fourteen. Being very fair-skinned and never a sun worshipper but a beach and water-lover, I always plotted (except for those two times) to do my pool thing when the sun was going down and my ocean thing usually in a wetsuit. Man, those sunburns were horrendous -- I always froze thin slabs of ice in cookie sheets and put them on my back while I draped myself over the patio railing. Kind of a baroque solution but it felt good. And then there's the part where it starts getting real itchy and you make people scratch your back, and if you're a complete back-scratch slut like me, that's real good too.

Posted by: Flautist | May 11, 2007 2:12:27 AM

Keeping a coat of Neosporin (with pain reliever) on the burn has worked perfectly for me. Pain is instantly relieved and the burn, even a bad one, heals within a couple of days. Two aspirin every four hours would give me a whopper of a belly pain.

Posted by: Peggy | May 10, 2007 10:36:44 PM

Great "Behind the Med Speak"
You are too cool!

Posted by: jon | May 10, 2007 7:39:44 PM

Not on kids though, aspirin being unsuitable for smalls. However, you should be able to get the same effect with ibuprofen, since it's also an NSIAD and is gentler on the stomach.

I have found a use for after-sun lotion though - and that's for chiken pox. Calamine lotion is utterly useless (something the medical profession seem to have only recently noticed) but a low dose of anti-histamine and a wipe over with aftersun stops the itching almost completely.

Posted by: Skipweasel | May 10, 2007 4:22:42 PM

I agree about the pain treatment but must advise against keeping aspirin in the car. Car interiors get way too hot too easily on the types of days that induce sunburn. Also, on the way to making aspirin you get a chemical that smells minty, and aspirin often breaks back down to that stage when past its prime. Certainly, if it smells like Wint-O-Green, toss it.

Posted by: tatiana | May 10, 2007 4:20:35 PM

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